I’m headed down to the University of Delaware tomorrow for “The African Americas Project,” a two-day symposium bringing together quite a mix of artists, musicians, and scholars to explore the connections between Latin America, the Caribbean and the US.
For my part, I’ll be talking about “Reggaeton’s Afro-American Address,” by which I mean the ways that reggaeton — despite a certain divisiveness — is best understood as a genre articulating a powerful synthesis of Afrodiasporic style which directly (and indexically, musically/semiotically speaking) addresses an Afro-American listening public (and here I use “Afro-American” — an outdated term in the US — in the broadest sense, as a term encompassing Afro-Jamaican, Afro-Puerto-Rican, Afro-Panamanian, and African-American styles and practices).
I’ll make this argument by revealing the secret of the mystery of the mighty dembow. Here’s a hint: the loop that turns up in the lion’s share of reggaeton productions is not sampled from Shabba’s seminal song, despite what Wikipedia and everyone else says. Nope. What you think was made in Kingston actually hails from Long Island! But you’ll have to catch the talk, or wait for a forthcoming article, to get the full scoop.
It’s an honor to be part of a program featuring so many distinguished speakers, among them keynoter Franklin W. Knight, a towering figure in Caribbean Studies. You can see the full program here (PDF), but let me also note, with some excitement, that another participant is none other than Jamaican filmmaker Storm Saulter, who will be screening Better Mus Come and other works tomorrow afternoon (and, awesomely, offering comment on the music panel I’m a part of on Friday).
If you’re in the area, do drop by. Should be a stimulating session.
Also, how refreshing to be described as a “DJ, technomusicologist, and journalist”! Works for me.
This Saturday I’ll be at Cornell, speaking on a panel alongside some esteemed colleagues. The subject at hand is, more or less, the animating force behind this blog in recent years: “(post-)regional dance musics and their transformation through the internet” —
The students organizing the event have an ambitious agenda for digging deeper into this stuff. They envision Saturday’s panel as “a way to introduce, contextualize, and start a dialogue that really hasn’t existed in (with a few exceptions) academic circles.” That said, I’ll be curious to see whether the turnout is largely students or whether some scholar-colleagues will join us as well. Although some of the speakers are (aspiring) academics, I’m told that our profiles as bloggers were central to the invitation, “an interesting statement on the role of the internet in the circulation of these regional styles.”
The organizers tell me that they hope this weekend’s event will pave the way for two future shows involving some of Chicago’s best and brightest. (Their wishlist includes DJ Rashad, DJ Deeon, DJ Clent, Jammin’ Gerald, and Traxman). Nick, one of the organizers, adds: “Admittedly, the shows are super Chicago centric, but this is what I’ve played the most and what I’m the most familiar with (I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio). Working on planning some stuff next semester and bringing some other folks up.”
Sounds like a plan to me. I’m happy to be a part of the conversation, and I’m thrilled to chat with some smart participants/observers who’ll bring to the (round)table years of experience in and research on such crucial sites as Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Atlanta, and New Orleans. No doubt you all know blogging brethren like Gavin Mueller, a perennially sharp critic of world2.0 and longtime ghettotech interpreter, but I’m also looking forward to meeting Al Shipley, the guy who’s writing the (kickstarted!) book on Bmore club, as well as Matt Miller, scholar of bounce and other dirty southness, and, last but not least, Ghettophiles‘ Neema Nazem, who first came to my attention as an acid-tongued but well-meaning interventionist in London’s burgeoning love affair with juke.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a party Saturday night featuring the mighty Dave Quam on the decks? YES.
I don’t have much more to add for now. Longtime readers should know that my pantheon of everyday heroes in recent years is remarkably populated by some central players in this story: courageous (if often faceless) kids dancing up a storm at school, at home, on the street, & on the screen —
[Ok, here’s another oldie-but-goodie from the Riddim Meth0d vaults. Plenty of readers are no doubt familiar with this post/mashup, especially since I’ve revisited the issue. In the time since I wrote it (almost 5 years ago!), I’ve also had the strange fortune of submitting a brief report — about the significance of “Big Pimpin” to Jay’s and Timbo’s respective oeuvres — to the lawyers working for the heirs to Baligh Hamdi’s copyrights. (For the record, while I don’t want to contribute to bad legal precedent, I’m generally ok with taking some of the money that explodes outward as rich people sue rich people, as long as I get to tell the truth as I see/hear it. Also, this likely won’t go to trial.) This example also finds its way into a chapter I’m contributing to a forthcoming book on Pop-Culture Tools for the Music Classroom. Finally, I want to thank the lovely humanitarians at archive.org for preserving the post and — more importantly — the comments on it. I’m happy & relieved to recover the comment thread from the initial RM post, which I will paste in at the bottom of this re-post. It’s hard to lose conversations to the e-ther, even little ones. For the record, this was initially published on 19 September 2005.]
riffing off pace’s east-meets-west blend and continuing my experiments with mashes of musically-related songs, i offer up an orientalist oddity: jay z’s “big pimpin’,” as produced by timbaland, mixed with abdel-halim hafez’s “khosara,” the song that provided timbo with the inspiration for the slinky, flute-propelled loop that undergirds j-hova’s jam.
although there was some controversy about the similarity between “pimpin'” and “khosara” (including talk of a lawsuit), timbaland apparently escaped penalty, at least at present, because in this case he replayed – i.e., re-recorded – the two-bar section (rather than digitally sampling it), and the sense appears to be that the underlying composition was not original and/or substantial enough to be infringed in this case. you will hear in the four-bars that begin my mashup that timbaland’s beat bears a very strong resemblance to the original. [note from 2010: i have since changed my opinion on the question of whether this features a sample or not, based on irrefutable evidence.]
this is not an unambiguous case. because the music in question is a short loop and it is re-recorded rather than sampled, it seems reasonable for timbo to get off the hook. of course, not only is the musical reference a clearly recognizable one, the two-bar phrase in question is an important part of the original, serving as an intro and as a recurring riff (notably, returning after the vocal section). at the same time, the fact that, according to this article, label owner magdi el-amroussi would have denied timbo the ability to use this fragment – “Because he’s changed the composition” – also seems to argue for timbaland’s right to do it. despite that timbo and jay used the flute loop to craft a somewhat crass (if catchy) song about pimpin’, the world would be worse off with such arbitrary, authoritarian restrictions on derivative works, whether the so-called owner of the copyright is disney or a seemingly stodgy label owner.
what i like about this mash, as with the “code of the beats” experiment, is that one gets to hear more of the original, which is great in its own right, and thus one understands the sonic inspiration at work here. at the same time, hearing the source alongside the “derivative” track offers new ways of hearing the originals. in this case, one gets to hear how timbo’s interpretation changes the original: rather than a recurring motif, the flute loop now undergirds the entire composition, moving its emphasis toward rhythmic repetition and bass frequencies. similarly, rather than supporting some southern-fried, slap-a-bitch rap, timbaland’s breezy beat, enhanced by additional winds and strings, instead accompanies the mournful, melismatic singing of abdel-halim hafez, the “king of arabic music.”
although timbo’s beat has always had me open, i gotta admit that jay’s lyrics (and those of his cohorts) tend to put me off. frankly, they make me cringe. as much as i can see the attraction of expanding the pimp-metaphor (as with the hustler, badman, etc.) and of playing the role – at bottom, it is a position of power, par excellence perhaps – i just can’t get with the misogyny when it comes down to it. similar to oliver, i have a hard time recuperating exploitation. so, rather than playing any of the verses, or even the chorus, what i have done here is to “dub in” a few of the phrases in jay’s verse that seemed more “positive” or at least could be interpreted that way. “love ‘em” (without the “leave ‘em”) seems about as good as it gets, though i found some others, too.
after putting the phrases together, i was struck that the line “take ‘em out the hood, keep ‘em lookin’ good” suggests quite another set of meanings when heard in the context of egyptian music: one can either hear jay-z critiquing conservative islam’s call for women to wear veils – recalling vybz kartel’s “you nuh haffi hide your face like bin laden gal” – or one can hear him assailing the american-style torture interrogation techniques so symbolized by hooded abu ghraib prisoners.
and despite its appearance before 9/11, “big pimpin'” does tap into our historical moment nonetheless, sitting alongside a host of other orientalist beats in hip-hop, dancehall, and various electronic genres. the resonance of middle eastern music in the world’s (urban, popular) musics has been building for some time, reflecting centuries of history of interaction, not to mention a contemporary and increasingly visible and audible cultural presence in the US.
even so, representations of middle-easterners and islam in the US (and, say, UK) remain as stereotyped and distorted as the “eastern” musical figures in contemporary popular music. the article in al-ahram notes that the hip-hop press completely conflated various asian/orientalist signifiers when trying to describe the egyptian sound of “big pimpin'”:
The identity of the composer of the song, though, has been lost within the crazy machinations of the hip-hop world. A review of the song on MTV describes it as “Bollywood-wigged NOLA bounce stutter-stepping,” ignoring its Egyptian roots. Another review describes the beat as featuring “Z droppin big willie rhymes over a swaying, South-Seas flavoured groove that’s a happy musical marriage of Brooklyn and Bali.”
so it is also my hope that a mashup of this sort can serve to bring a little more awareness to the actual music whose ghosts and caricatures today haunt mainstream radio and the global underground alike. the hafez original could serve as a window into a wonderful world of truly amazing music, which, really, should only further justify the existence of timbaland’s homage. (let’s face it: they’re not exactly competing in the same market; one’s existence does not diminish the other – on the contrary, they enrich each other’s resonance.)
i recommend tracking down the original recording of “khosara” – never mind various live versions – and giving the song a listen. it certainly holds up on its own. (i’m sayin’, how do you think it came into timbaland’s hands?) in fact, given that the infringement suit seems like a non-issue, and considering that so many of us really dig the same sounds that inspired timbo and jay-z, it would be dandy if hafez found new listeners by virtue of timbo “putting him on.” you can find one version of “khosara” on CD here (and listen to a real-audio file of the whole thing), and you can hear much, much more from him here. enchanting stuff, no doubt. listen to this alongside some um kulthum, and you’ll get a good sense of mid-20th century egyptian popular music.
a word on technique: i have pitched the hafez recording up slightly in order to match the timbo version (since the latter had the more compelling, bumping center, which i would rather not distort). when the hafez makes harmonic changes, however, i shift the timbaland up in pitch to match it (which, yeah, sometimes sounds a little weird – but this is all kind of weird to begin with, no?). i have simply replayed the first vocal section of the hafez after the jay-z-quoting dubby section in order to give the track’s form a kind of roundness. because the hafez original is substantially longer than i imagine most people’s attention spans are, i decided to excise the rest of it. (when i tried out an earlier mix of these at a boston-based college-bar, it was clear that heads were not ready. it nearly caused a riot on dance floor, and not in a good way. but i insisted on making it through at least one round of hafez’s singing before bringing back the jay-z. the manager thought i had lost it. i quit that gig shortly thereafter. when i played the same sequence at beat research, where there also happened to be some egyptians in the house, people went bananas for it.)
one final note: i’ve added some additional, locally-inflected percussion here. having added this mash into my set at the boston bounce party a couple weeks ago, i already had the two tracks arranged with some bounce-y beats underneath (i.e., all the percussion that enters after the first eight bars). i decided to leave the beats in because they give the track some nice extra drive (if obscuring some of the halftime feel of the jay-z) and because i’ve been enjoying this odd beantown groove lately. “big pimpin'” and “khosara,” both with tempos in the mid-130s, were well suited to a boston bounce refix. it’s kind of a funny tempo, i think – unsettling with its constant question, “too fast or too slow?” – but between grime, garage, b-more, techno, soca, electro, and the occasional uptempo hip-hop or dancehall oddity, among others, beats in the 130-140 bpm range seem all the rage of late. at any rate, what’s another node in the network? shit’s messy enough to begin with. i think that’s why it sounds so good.
I enjoyed this so thoroughly yesterday that I need to post it here. Thanks to Frank Roberts for the tip. Becca called this 15 minute film “pitch perfect,” and I think she’s right. Hope you dig this as much as we. Someone needs to give Mykwain Gainey the resources to produce a series or something, preferably along these lines (and IMO with basically these same production values — so simple, so brilliant, so affective).
Not sure what to make of the casual misogyny (metaphor?) at the heart of this — a generalizing of hoe — but, that aside (if I may), I gotta say that I can’t get enough of dudes dancing lithely on their front lawns (wait for 1:10 in the video below). Apparently, this joint’s on some Dallas Boogie ish (h/t) —
After watching the following montage of “Hit Dat” clips there’s no denying that it’s a bonefide D-Town “movement” (the opening brass band bit, per yesterday, was the clincher in convincing me to post this) —
@noz sez sometimes RT can mean “real talk”; here it’s both re: Lil B (RT@noz):
The 19 year old Pack frontman currently maintains 114 myspace pages (not accounting for the â€śSECRETEâ€ť [sp] pages he hints at in blog posts) all launched over roughly the last eight months and each showcasing five or six original songs and freestyles. He calls them â€śNOVELTY PAGESâ€ť, but thatâ€™s a disservice to the music within. The pages are numbered chronologically and listening to them in order is like reading an abandoned space journal, a slow descent into madness. Except itâ€™s the good kind of madness.
On the earliest ones he was rapping regular over hit instrumentals and beats that could have been out takes from The Packâ€™s major label album. The songs have actual hooks, the lyrics about girls and partying. But as time goes on he gets progressively looser with it. The beats get faster and more adventurous, the fidelity lower. He starts to abandon traditional rhymes completely around the page #60, veering towards some sort of spoken word hybrid. By the late 90s he shouting on Chicago juke records and mumbling about shooting bitches in the bra over distorted as all fuck house. In the hundreds heâ€™s rambling about eating with monkeys in space and having flashbacks to the East Bay Vivarium where he was moved to lie about having a pet iguana in a poetry contest. Sometimes heâ€™s singing, sometimes heâ€™s half rapping, sometimes just talking. Always he sounds just a little gone, but mostly joyous even in dark moments. The cynic could chalk this oddness up to trend hopping, a natural outgrowth of the cool-to-be-different Kanye/Wayne era. The realist might say drugs. It may be a little bit of both, but a third factor looms apparent on Bâ€™s suddenly immense catalog.
â€śWhen youâ€™re on the internet time speeds up.â€ť It almost sounds like a mission statement when B gargles these words on â€śTimeâ€ť. …
See CBRAP for audio — oh, and about 100 MySpace pages.
i <3 SFJ for sentences like this — "The song is rooted in the jiggling rhythms of James Brown, the motherlode for sampling producers from the eighties, and now entirely irrelevant to any rap being made in New York, Atlanta, Rio, or Miami." — point taken, but isn't contemporary crunk pretty much based on kraftwerk's automatonization of JB's funk? if so, "entirely irrelevant" perhaps overstates things, tho i appreciate another fine sentence/assertion which follows — "This song must sound like jazz to Soulja Boy Tellem."
an excellent, engrossing, flashy site about brazilian soul, aka the roots of baile funk, back when the sounds of james brown (& philly, motown, and memphis) were moving the masses, prior to the kraftwerk/miami-bass invasion of the 1980s
"HIGH TECH SOUL is the first documentary to tackle the deep roots of techno music alongside the cultural history of Detroit, its birthplace. From the race riots of 1967 to the underground party scene of the late 1980s, Detroit's economic downturn didn't stop the invention of a new kind of music that brought international attention to its producers and their hometown."
'PG: For Du Bois, their culture is what allows African Americans to be a world-historic people, to sit at that table and offer the world a conception of freedom which is richer, more complex, more compelling, and more dynamic than any conception of freedom which has been articulated previously. … This is a different freedom. This is not the freedom of the ancient Greeks; this is not the freedom of the Prussians; this is a distinctive conception of freedom which is won from an experience of sufferingâ€”not the redemption of that suffering, but the product of it. And so, however pompous it may have sounded in Du Boisâ€™s mouth, I actually think that itâ€™s kind of right. I do think that if weâ€™re looking at the globalization of African American culture, if we understand why everyone in the world is doing hip hopâ€”and itâ€™s not just because Coke and Nike tell them toâ€”thereâ€™s something about this vernacular culture which does exactly what Du Bois imagined it would do.'
'One day, while idly browsing the collection of a cultural studies institute in Bangalore, I found _Walter Rodney Speaks: The Making of an African Intellectual_, a slim pamphlet published by the Africa World Press. There was Rodney, a young, working-class activist, campaigning door-to-door for the PPP before falling out with it; years later, there he was again, reprimanding Stokely Carmichael for inciting Africans against Indians in Guyana. He tackled Soviet Communism and local Marxism, socialism and the state, the Pan-African world and his Guyanese location. The text was incredibly sophisticated, a vivid mix of theory and experience, every word of it ringing trueâ€”the sort of book that you read with a secret smile and trembling hands, since it seems to have been written especially for you. The French Marxist Louis Althusser might have called this â€śinterpellation.â€ť But then Althusser was criminally insane, and I was so awed by Rodney that I could only think of it as an invitation.'
'One of the prevailing theses of the current election season is that Senator Barack Hussein Obama is not the round-way-brand of black man. Such a premise is palpable only to the extent that one chooses to read Obama against the image of marketplace confections of black masculinity, particularly those that legibly erect centuries' old tropes of danger, bestial behavior, and sinister eroticism.'
"We are taking this cyberground railroad to new celebrity, much like our cousins worldwide. Youtube has become a place to 'get a rep,' for some to use as a stepping-stone to other things. But for some, and maybe most of us, it is a place to be who we are, in our own skin." — Vetalle Fusilier :: "we kiss the ass of youtube." — fatman scoop